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A Parliamentary train is a passenger service operated in the United Kingdom to comply with the Railway Regulation Act 1844 that required train companies to provide inexpensive and basic rail transport for less affluent passengers. The act required that at least one such service per day be run on every railway route in the UK. Now no longer a legal requirement (although most franchise agreements require such trains), the term describes train services that continue to be run to avoid the cost of formal closure of a route or station but with reduced services often to just one train per week and without specially low prices. Such services are often called "ghost trains".[1]

Nineteenth-century usageEdit

Great Western Railway open passenger car

In the earliest days of passenger railways in the United Kingdom the poor were encouraged to travel in order to find employment in the growing industrial centres, but trains were generally unaffordable to them except in the most basic of open wagons, in many cases attached to goods trains.[2] Political pressure caused the Board of Trade to investigate, and Sir Robert Peel's Conservative government enacted the Railway Regulation Act 1844, which took effect on 1 November 1844. It compelled "the provision of at least one train a day each way at a speed of not less than 12 miles an hour including stops, which were to be made at all stations, and of carriages protected from the weather and provided with seats; for all which luxuries not more than a penny a mile might be charged".[3]

In popular cultureEdit

Parliamentary Train: Interior of a third class carriage (1859)

The basic comfort and slow progress of Victorian parliamentary trains led to a humorous reference in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Mikado. The Mikado is explaining how he will match punishments to the crimes committed:

The idiot who, in railway carriages
Scribbles on window-panes
We only suffer
To ride on a buffer
On Parliamentary trains.

Legacy of the Beeching cutsEdit

Chiltern Railways Class 165 at London Paddington in November 2009 operating a parliamentary service

In 1963 under its chairman Richard Beeching, British Railways produced The Reshaping of British Railways report, designed to stem the huge losses being made by as patronage declined.[4] It proposed very substantial cuts to the network and to train services, with many lines closed under a programme known as the Beeching cuts. The Transport Act 1962 included a formal closure process allowing for objections to closures on the basis of hardship to passengers if their service was closed. As the objections gained momentum, this process became increasingly difficult to implement, and from about 1970 closures slowed to a trickle.

In certain cases where there was exceptionally low usage the train service was reduced to a bare minimum, but the service was not formally closed, avoiding the costs associated with closure. In some cases the service was reduced to one train a week, and in one direction only.

These minimal services had resonances of the 19th-century parliamentary services, and among rail enthusiasts they came to be referred to as "parliamentary trains", or more colloquially "parly" trains (following the abbreviation used in Victorian timetables) or "ghost trains". However, this terminology has no official standing. So-called parliamentary services are also typically run at inconvenient times, often very early in the morning, very late at night, or in the middle of the day at the weekend. In extreme instances, rail services have actually been "temporarily" withdrawn and replaced by substitute bus services, to maintain the pretence that the service has not been withdrawn.

Speller ActEdit

When the closures brought about by the Beeching Report had reached equilibrium it was recognised that some incremental services or station reopenings were desirable. However, if a service was started and proved unsuccessful, it could not be closed again without going through the formal process, with the possibility that it might not be terminated. It was recognised that this discouraged possible desirable developments, and the Transport Act 1962 (Amendment) Act 1981 permitted the immediate closure of such experimental reopenings. The Bill that led to the Act of 1981 was sponsored by a pro-railways Member of Parliament, Tony Speller, and it is usually referred to as the Speller Act. The process is still in effect, although the legislation has been subsumed into other enactments.



Examples of lines currently served only by a parliamentary train are:

Origin Destination Days operated Outbound
Operator Comments
South Ruislip West Ealing Monday-Friday 11:02[5] 11:47 to High Wycombe[6] Chiltern Railways via the Greenford line, commenced 10 December 2018 replacing previous service to London Paddington via the Acton-Northolt line
Norwich Manchester Sundays 15:54 N/A East Midlands Railway Only public service to use the Queen Adelaide loop which is usually used for freight services only. It is also the only East Midlands Railway service operating on the Norwich to Liverpool Lime Street that does not call at Ely but instead bypassing it by using the Queen Adelaide loop north of Ely.
Battersea Park Dalston Junction Monday-Friday 06:33
22:04 London Overground commenced 9 December 2012 after Southern service between London Victoria and London Bridge via the South London line ceased
Liverpool Street Enfield Town Saturday 05:31 N/A London Overground travels via but does not call at South Tottenham
Lancaster Morecambe Monday–Saturday 05:30 N/A Northern via Carnforth (reverse) and the Morecambe to Hest Bank line.
Goole Leeds Monday-Saturday 07:42
17:58 Northern via the Pontefract line
Sheffield Cleethorpes Saturday 07:55
Northern via Kirton Lindsey & Brigg, became a parliamentary service when weekday service withdrawn in 1993[7] Regular trains now operate between Gainsborough and Sheffield
Stalybridge Stockport Saturday 08:46 09:45 Northern via Stockport to Stalybridge Line
London Charing Cross Tunbridge Wells Tuesday-Saturday 00:15 04:49 Southeastern via Beckenham Junction, return at 04:49 from Tonbridge to London Charing Cross via Beckenham Junction, Monday–Friday only. These journeys use the curve between Beckenham Junction and New Beckenham (previously used by a weekday morning Cannon Street to Beckenham Junction via New Beckenham train, returning in the afternoon to Charing Cross).
Gillingham Sheerness-on-Sea Monday-Friday 04:56 21:32 Southeastern travels via Sittingbourne Western Junction curve
Streatham Hill London Bridge Monday-Friday 16:17 N/A Southern via Tulse Hill and Leigham Junction
Wolverhampton Walsall Saturday 06:10 N/A West Midlands Trains The regular Wolverhampton to Walsall service runs via Birmingham New Street rather than over the direct line.
London Victoria Ashford International Monday-Friday 05:50[8] N/A Southeastern via "Factory Junction", "Stewarts Lane Junction" and "Grosvenor Bridge Junction", calling at Wandsworth Road and Clapham High Street, this is the only Southeastern service to call at these stations.
An up-to-date list is maintained at the "PSUL". website.[9]


Examples of lines formerly served only by a Parliamentary train are:

Origin Destination Days operated Outbound
Operator Ceased Comments
Chester Runcorn Summer Saturdays 07:53 N/A Northern 8 September 2018 Via the one-way Halton Curve, northbound only.[10][11] Last ran 2018, full-time services resumed in May 2019[12]
Woodgrange Park Willesden Junction Monday-Friday 07:59 N/A London Overground Some time in 2018 This service travelled via but did not call at Gospel Oak. Last operated mid to late 2018. Service will operate again soon.[citation needed]
South Ruislip London Paddington Monday-Friday 10:57[13] 11:35 to High Wycombe[14] Chiltern Railways 7 December 2018 Maintained route knowledge for drivers enabling services to divert to Paddington when Marylebone was closed, ceased 7 December 2018 with the closure of the Acton-Northolt line services to enable High Speed 2 works. The service was diverted to West Ealing via the Greenford line.

Stations with minimal servicesEdit

Two Great Western Railway trains call at Pilning each week

A station may have a parliamentary service because the operating company wishes it closed, but the line is in regular use (most trains pass straight through). Examples include:

One train every Saturday is scheduled to call at Bordesley; however, the station remains open for use when Birmingham City Football Club are playing at home.

In the mid-1990s British Rail was forced to serve Smethwick West in the West Midlands for an extra 12 months after a legal blunder meant that the station had not been closed properly. One train per week each way still called at Smethwick West, even though it was only a few hundred yards from the replacement Smethwick Galton Bridge.[18]


A variant of the parliamentary train service was the temporary replacement bus service, as employed between Watford and Croxley Green in Hertfordshire. The railway line was closed to trains in 1996, but to avoid the legal complications and costs of actual closure train services were replaced by buses, thus maintaining the legal fiction of an open railway.[19] The branch was officially closed in 2003. Work is to begin to absorb most of the route into a diversion of the Watford branch of the Metropolitan line into Watford Junction.

The temporary replacement bus tactic was used from December 2008 between Ealing Broadway and Wandsworth Road[20] when Arriva CrossCountry withdrew its services from Brighton to Manchester, which was the only passenger service between Factory Junction, north of Wandsworth Road, and Latchmere Junction, on the West London Line. This service was later replaced by a single daily return train between Kensington Olympia and Wandsworth Road operated by Southern until formal consultation commenced and closure was completed in 2013.[21]

The replacement bus tactic was used to service Norton Bridge, Barlaston and Wedgwood stations on the Stafford–Manchester line, which had its passenger services withdrawn in 2004 to allow more Virgin CrossCountry and Virgin Trains West Coast services to be operated. Norton Bridge station was closed in December 2017 coinciding with the transfer of the West Midlands franchise from London Midland to West Midlands Trains, with funding for the bus service to Norton Bridge continuing until March 2019.[22][23]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "On Board a Real-Life "Ghost Train"". BBC News. 1 July 2012. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  2. ^ D.N. Smith (1988) The Railway and Its Passengers: A Social History, Newton Abbott: David & Charles
  3. ^ MacDermott, E.T., History of the Great Western Railway, London: Great Western Railway, 1927, Vol. 1, part 2, page 640
  4. ^ "The Reshaping of British Railways" (PDF). Her Majesty's Stationery Office. 1963.
  5. ^ "2V27 1102 South Ruislip to West Ealing". Real Train Times. Archived from the original on 10 December 2018. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  6. ^ "2M27 1147 West Ealing to High Wycombe". Real Train Times. Archived from the original on 6 October 2018. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  7. ^ The ghost trains of northern England that refuse to die The Independent 31 October 2017
  8. ^ "2Y06 0550 London Victoria to Ashford International". Real Train Times. 14 February 2019. Archived from the original on 14 February 2019.
  9. ^ "Passenger Train Services over Unusual Lines". Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  10. ^ Rural Railways – Fifth Report of the Session 2004–05 (PDF), The Stationery Office, 9 March 2005, retrieved 16 September 2009
  11. ^ Hearfield, Samuel (15 October 2016). "Chester to Liverpool South Parkway (Parliamentary Train) Via the Halton Curve (Final Trip, 16th of July 2016)". Samuel Hearfield (YouTube). Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  12. ^ New Chester to Liverpool rail service delayed due to shortage of trains Cheshire Live 21 September 2018
  13. ^ 2V27 1057 South Ruislip to London Paddington Real Train Times 7 December 2018
  14. ^ 2M29 1135 London Paddington to High Wycombe Real Train Times 7 December 2018
  15. ^ "Rail buffs to highlight Teesside Airport 'ghost station'". The Journal. Trinity Mirror. 14 October 2009. Archived from the original on 26 October 2009.
  16. ^ "All aboard for the ghost train". Western Daily Press. 10 August 2006.
  17. ^ Pilning Station Footbridge Removed for Wiring Modern Railways issue 819 December 2016 page 11
  18. ^ "Smethwick West Station 1867–1996". Retrieved 16 September 2009.
  19. ^ "Croxley Green LNWR branch – passenger closure". Rail Chronology. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  20. ^ "'Ghost bus' makes final journey" news article 11 June 2013; Retrieved 20 May 2013
  21. ^ "Consultation: Withdrawal of scheduled passenger services between Wandsworth Road, Kensington (Olympia) and Ealing Broadway". Department for Transport. 10 May 2012. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
  22. ^ Norton Bridge rail station: proposed closure Department for Transport 6 November 2017
  23. ^ Closure Ratification Notice – Norton Bridge Station Office of Rail & Road 26 October 2017


  • Billson, P. (1996). Derby and the Midland Railway. Derby: Breedon Books.
  • Jordana, Jacint; Levi-Faur, David (2004). The politics of regulation: institutions and regulatory reforms for the age of governance. Edward Elgar Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84376-464-9.
  • Ransom, P. J. G. (1990). The Victorian Railway and How It Evolved. London: Heinemann.
  • Calder, Simon (2 April 2011). "Missed the bus? The route that runs only four times year". BBC.

External linksEdit